The idea of falling is so conceptually perfect that we apply it to even our most personal of relationships: falling in love implies an absolute inability to control the directional pull of our emotions. We. Are. Falling. Only our good judgment, sometimes suspended during a fall, can ensure a soft emotional landing. When it comes to actual falls to the floor, however, older Americans can take control beforehand to lessen our own chances of, uh, hitting bottom.
One in three Americans over the age of 65 falls each year; the dangers of a fall should not be underestimated. With increasing number of older adults, and even more of the “oldest-old” (those over 85), the number of falls has increased dramatically over the past decade, as have death rates from such falls. Hip fractures are a major cause of loss of independence.
People aged 75 and above are 4-5 times more likely to need long-term care if they experience a fall.
The keys to fall avoidance speak to the causes themselves:
- Be active. Physical exercise helps with leg strength and balance, two key factors in hindering falls. Physical conditioning can improve at any age. Never stop moving. Walk. Take a balance class designed for older people. Weight-bearing activity also strengthens bones.
- Be strong. Women, especially, should maintain upper body strength, as this can be crucial in softening a landing and getting back up. Many older women do not have the physical strength to push themselves upright after a fall.
- Be aware. Know what medications you take, and if they cause dizziness.
- Be brave. Ironically, being afraid of a fall (feeling anxious) actually increases the likelihood of falling, as people in this category are less likely to be active, thus diminishing leg strength and, often, social interaction as well. A more tentative body style may also increase fragility and hinder reflexes.
- Listen to your feet. Wear good shoes that encourage full foot contact: nerves in your feet communicate balance issues to your brain. They are talking about you.
- The area rug is not your friend.
- See clearly. Make sure your eyeglass prescription is up to date, and glasses are clean. On a more personal note, do not run full speed to the phone while wearing your reading glasses. You can’t see with them, and slippery tile is a tough customer. It’s only a phone solicitor, anyway. In general, NEVER HURRY.
- If you fall and are not injured, still tell your doctor. It could indicate a concern with blood pressure (lying or standing), or another underlying issue.
About those romantic falls: a broken heart hurts, too. I recommend a non-stop series of feature films with Paul Newman, Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, and Paul Newman. Unplug the phone and clean your glasses before fully engaging.